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Thursday, January 2, 2014
B's focused on finish, not midpoint

By Joe McDonald
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins have reached the midway point of the 2013-2014 season.

With Thursday's 3-2 overtime win over the Nashville Predators at TD Garden, the Bruins improve to 27-12-2 for 56 points and own the top spot in the Atlantic Division.

Big deal. Game 41 only means the season is 50 percent complete.

Even Bruins coach Claude Julien dismissed the importance of the middle of the season. It's more about the start and the finish.

"You look at yourself in the standings and you're in decent position, but again, when I say we can get better, we know we can get better," Julien said. "The more the games are going to have some importance you're going to see the guys buckle down even more, and that's just a natural trend.

"Right now we're playing well enough that we're at the top of the league with a lot of other teams and we've just got to stay there, because even that's a task in itself, just to stay at the top and we have a challenge in regards to that."

Brad Marchand
Brad Marchand celebrates after his overtime goal beat the Predators and improved the Bruins' record to 27-12-2.

Boston has reached the Stanley Cup finals in two of the previous three seasons. The Bruins hoisted the Cup in 2011 with an historic win over the Vancouver Canucks, but Boston fell short in 2013 when it lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the finals.

Even though it was a short summer, the Bruins arrived at training camp with one goal -- return to the Stanley Cup finals. It doesn't matter where they are at this point. The Bruins are only concerned with earning a postseason berth, because anything can happen in the playoffs.

"We have high expectations and I think we've met those expectations fairly well," Bruins forward Gregory Campbell said. "We're in the top echelon of the league and that's what is expected of us in this dressing room and within the organization. We're in a good spot now."

Boston is not the type of team that sets periodical goals. The Bruins simply want to contend for a Stanley Cup. A strong start to the season is important because they want to position themselves as a playoff contender by Thanksgiving, which they accomplished.

"There are really high expectations for this team, and so being in a playoff position goes without saying," Campbell said. "We know it's a long season, a long year and a lot happens over the course of 81 games, but it's not about pacing yourself and waiting for the playoffs to happen. It's about being good every night and trying to pick up points."

Given all the adversity the Bruins have faced in the first 41 games, leading the division as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference is an important accomplishment. At this point, the Bruins' total of collective games missed due to injuries stands at 83.

Forward Loui Eriksson has missed a total of 17 games this season due to a pair of concussions. Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg recently suffered a season-ending injury with a torn MCL and ACL in his right knee. Forward Chris Kelly has missed 12 games with a fractured right fibula. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton returned Thursday after missing 10 games with a lower-body injury.

It also doesn't help that Shawn Thornton is currently serving a 15-game suspension and won't return until Jan. 11.

Through it all, the Bruins have needed the services of 11 different prospects from their AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins. All have made significant contributions to help keep Boston atop the Atlantic Division.

"We also have to give ourselves credit, as far as overcoming all these injuries," Campbell said. "Not since I've been here have we had a rash of injuries like we're going through right now. It's a credit to the organization that we can have guys come in and not miss a beat."

During the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring, Julien explained that even the best players in the world, including some on his team, have a tendency to become bored during the grueling and arduous 82-game season. Those players also have the ability to perform at their best when it counts.

Whether they'll admit it or not, the Bruins have a tendency to fall into that inconsistent play at times, but the team's ability to limit those types of games will be important in the second half.

"There are areas that we can still improve on," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "I wouldn't say we're peaking as of this point, but obviously we're in a good position as far as the standings go and we have to look forward to the second half and keep building in these last 41 games, peak at the right time and get our game to where we want it to be."

The way general manager Peter Chiarelli has built this roster, and the experience these players have gained in the past seasons, serve as strengths for the Bruins. Despite the deep playoff run and the short summer, these players don't feel the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover as they did during the 2011-2012 season at this point of the schedule.

"You can always learn things when you look back on experiences and having been through both on the winning side and the losing side, it's extremely different," Campbell said of this season. "The experience we had last year leaves a bitter taste in your mouth and you can't wait for the season to start again because we want another crack at it. For the opportunity to win another Stanley Cup is something that's cherished in this dressing room because the opportunities don't come around that much."

It's evident by the standings that the race is still tight, and the second half is always a scrum of teams jockeying for playoff position. The Bruins will face the top teams in the league as well as teams that have nothing to lose, and both types can be dangerous.

"There's a lot of hockey to be played and we know the second half is when the level of intensity always ramps up a little bit," Campbell said. "So far, so good. But there's a lot of work to go."